Short Story

Arizona Skies
Image by Creativity+

Hope you guys like this — it’s part of a longer fictional work I’ve been doing for the past while back. It’s meant to be a journal entry one of the characters writes.

21 April, 2003

I was at work, like it always seems like I am, and I was doing my job as usual, when that new manager came in, that big fat bald guy with the gold rings, and he told me he had some work for me to do. So, I followed him down into the basement and he led me to this tiny, pitch-black corridor about the width of my shoulders underneath the stairs. It was filled, just filled with hundreds of water-logged, rotting plastic bags, random garbage, and what must have been hundreds of pounds of just useless metal scrap the purpose of which I have no hope of understanding — he told me I had to take all the stuff out and put it across the other side of the basement, and then I’d have to sweep all of it out and mop it. I told him “As long as you’re asking me, sure,â€? and he gave me a dirty look, but I didn’t care. He was being unfair and he probably knew it, so he left me to my work.

It was inhuman down there in that dungeon. It reeked of mold and mildew and God-knows-what-else, and everything I picked up was laced with cockroach corpses and dusty cobwebs. Seemed like every time I picked up some old stack of bags down there, I’d turn it over to see bugs running in every direction. The cement floor was uneven from mounds of ancient food that had stuck to the floor years ago. It stank of rotting and stale beer. I felt like a rat down there.

After about an hour and a half I got tired and went back upstairs to get a breath of fresh air. I told my manager I was taking a quick fifteen minute break, and went outside to finally sit down and rest a bit, when I was caught nearly breathless just as soon as I opened up the doors to go outside.

It’s times like these that I can feel my own inability as a writer, the inability of any writer, for that matter, to capture the sheer gravity and beauty of what I saw that evening. Goethe or Proust would be able to write of the physical beauty of what I saw, would be able to write about its emotional and spiritual implications, but even they would not be able to capture, truly capture what I felt in myself at that moment, in my heart. The eastern sky was a dark, oceanic blue, a sheer monstrosity, with light-purple, pink waves of clouds unfurling up higher in the sky in layers like flowers. They spread out and out in bands, in concentric ribbons revolving away from the illuminated western sky until coming to a thick cloudy mass of pink — a crescent cutting across the sky, and on the other side it was no longer dark, no longer deep, but a light, a clear, high blue, with the clouds just glowing this yellow, this yellow I didn’t even know existed until I saw it then. I could not even see the sun — the primary school across the street was obstructing my view. That didn’t matter. The sun just simply wasn’t necessary. I just stood there dumb-struck, awe-struck, every kind of struck I can think of, and I could almost not comprehend just how beautiful it was, I felt like it was crushing me. The clouds — the clouds that were farthest away from the sun in the east, were floating by fast in this purple, they looked… they looked like beings, like real, conscious beings sailing by in the wind. I was astonished.

Without even realizing it, I had found myself sitting upon some two-meter pole so I could get a better view. I don’t even know what the pole was doing there. I don’t care. I was sitting on it.

And then, I remember I saw these three girls walk by. They must’ve been thirteen or something, they were walking by with big cups of soda in their hands, and they were chatting away, not even noticing what was right above them, and I just couldn’t believe it. I could not believe it. I wanted to shake them and tell them to look, to look — how could you not look at this thing — this elemental force that was dwarfing and encompassing the landscape? I just didn’t understand…

And then I looked back at the sky and I began to think about this event that I was watching, this pure beauty, and I thought to myself, ‘how do I know that this is beautiful? What is it that tells me in my soul that this is what beauty is? Was I merely “taught” that this was what beauty was supposed to be like, or was this just pleasing to my eye and I therefore translated that to beauty?’

But that was nonsense. It was all nonsense. I stared back into the sky again, and I saw that, I saw that God was smiling at me. He was smiling at me. I was always told that man was made in His image, but in that moment, God was not only in me, but He was in the sky, and He was within everything that I saw, and I remember I started laughing. I was laughing and laughing and every time I looked around I just couldn’t help but laugh more. Everything that I had been so worked up about before that moment — working down there in that crypt, my feet hurting, my problems with my girlfriend and my university classes and the rest of my whole messed up life, it was all just so ridiculous now in the face of this beauty, so absolutely foolish. And I never want to forget this. I always want to remember it — this beauty, this true beauty that was in me, that was in the people walking by oblivious to the sky that was looming over their own heads, that was in the cracked cement beneath my feet, that was in everything I could and could not perceive. I was so happy in that moment. Impossibly happy. It was a bliss I had never experienced before, and I never want to forget it.

I sat there for what must have only been ten minutes, staring out at that sky, and before I even knew it, before I could even realize what was happening, the light had changed, the clouds had shifted, the sky was dark, and it was gone. I had lost it.

I remember when I was just a little kid, people always used to shout at me whenever I would show them pictures I had taken. I remember that one time when I was in elementary school, my father arranged for our sixth grade class to go on a trip to Massachusetts to reward us in our graduating year. All my friends were there, and I had brought along two disposable cameras. When we came home, I came into school with my photos proudly in my hand, and naturally, everybody wanted to see them. There had been late night games of truth-or-dare and spin the bottle on that trip, and everybody wanted to see all the pictures I might have taken of the great events, but I remember they started shouting at me when they saw the pictures I had taken. I remember one picture was of a hillside. Nothing on it. It was just an empty hillside. Another picture was of a spiral staircase that went up along the side of a house with a tree in the background. Another picture was of an oak in the middle of a field. Another was just of a dandelion in a field of wild, overgrown grass. They especially didn’t like that one. I remember that at the time I couldn’t even comprehend why they didn’t like my photos. Why would I want to take pictures of my classmates? “I see you guys everyday” was my answer for that I remember. Why would I want to take pictures of people I saw everyday? “But you see dandelions every day,” they pointed out to me. “They’re not even real flowers. They’re a weed.” A weed. There wasn’t anything pretentious about my photos — I was too young to be pretentious — I was simply doing what I felt the urge to do.

At the time I don’t think I understood it, but now I think I do. I think that even when I was young, I was always trying to remind myself, always trying to remember that there was beauty in this world of ugliness — that it was hiding off somewhere. I guess I just instinctively sought out that beauty in nature, in natural surroundings. I never looked to people for beauty. People were anything but beautiful in my mind.

I’ve always had faith in the existence of beauty in the world, but never any faith in its existence in people. I think the truth is that I’ve just never had any faith in myself.

As strange as it may sound, going back to work in that claustrophobic crypt again wasn’t all that hard. As long as I retained the memory of that feeling in my mind, I was all right. Everything was all right. I could still just laugh.

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4 Responses to Short Story

  1. Prem says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Amal. It is a great little insight into your character’s day – from the pits of revulsion to the heights of realisation. Very nicely done.

    I look forward to reading more.

  2. Madhava says:

    I enjoyed reading this … very beautifully written in places, keep writing, you have good potential.

  3. becci says:

    I read this a few days ago but didn’t make a comment.
    Yesterday I was walking to college, enjoying the blissful sunshine and feeling in love with nature. Suddenly I had the memory of a passage in a story I’d read recently, a man recollecting his childhood, taking photots of the most seemingly mundane things – a dandelion in a field, a tree – and his simple confusion when his school friends don’t like the pictures.
    I loved the line ‘I was too young to be pretentious’.

    But where had I read that?

    Thank you for sharing

  4. jyotirmaya says:

    reminds me of an experience I once had while out alone in the mountains flyfishing…..
    I look forward to reading more of this characters adventures…